‘What do you do?’
‘Mostly, I teach the piano.’
And there the conversation ends as my interlocutor recalls her rather strict and musty childhood piano teacher and the grim lessons she endured until her parents realised that she was getting nowhere and lessons should cease.
I was fortunate to have excellent and inspiring piano teachers when I was a child - teachers who made me want to be a piano teacher. But when it came to it, being a piano teacher didn’t seem like a ‘proper’ job.
When I was a student I did some French Horn teaching to earn a little money. When I was at teacher training college I taught my first piano pupils. I started them off on the materials I had used as a child and off we went. They both got to about grade 2 before I moved on. When I started teaching in school, I supplemented my income with some piano teaching and so it continued - piano teaching was an ‘add on’ to my ‘real’ job. The few students I had did OK. They passed their exams but I didn’t really feel confident in my role.
When I became a mum I found myself caught between supply teaching and piano teaching - both occupations that offered flexibility around the changing demands of family life. When we moved to a new area, I would have had to find new schools to be a supply teacher in and piano teaching became the simpler option in terms of employment. I learned almost all I know about the essence teaching in the classroom. That knowledge is distilled into 1:1 piano lessons and small group teaching. Discipline is rarely an issue. I can ‘get on and teach’.
I can’t remember when the piano teaching bug really got me. At some point in the last 12 years I began to believe in what I was doing. I began to believe that creating and playing music has power to change and improve lives and education. I began to be fascinated with the different ways in which children learn to make music at the piano. I began to seek out other piano teaching professionals. I began to engage in professional development. I re-started piano lessons myself. I became a Piano Teacher.
But is it a career path?
When I started school teaching, in my 20s, I could see the career map of a teacher clearly. It was there for me to follow if I chose to. Now, as I encounter middle age, I have much clearer priorities. These are met more than adequately in the satisfaction of enthusiastic beginners who rush to my piano to show me what they have practised this week, by the older pupils who persevere even though they have their ups and downs with the challenges and frustrations of learning to play the piano, by the teenagers successfully passing higher grade exams. The children who arrive feeling glum but leave their piano lessons smiling - music is amazing stuff! I am privileged to become a friend and mentor to my students - after all I am a consistent, weekly part of their lives, sometimes from the age of 5 until they leave school. I’m not just a teacher; I’m a cheerer-upper, mentor, counsellor, make it up as I go alonger (in other words, I like to think on my feet!), creator, problem solver, encourager, pusher-onner.... And these are the things I would be searching for in a career, were I looking for one.
If you’re after promotions, accolades, public congratulations and fame then piano teaching is not the career path you’re after. But if you love making a difference and changing lives in a quiet and persistent way, then there is no better career path. It’s just that others might not notice or understand the amazing career that you have.
‘What do you do?’
‘I’m a Piano Teacher and I help change lives.’ (Quoted from Curious Piano Teachers 2018)
‘Oh wow - that’s amazing!’